Professional interpretation for patients with limited English proficiency remains underused. Understanding predictors of use is crucial for intervention. We sought to identify factors associated with professional interpreter use during pediatric emergency department (ED) visits.
We video recorded ED visits for a subset of participants (n = 50; 20% of the total sample) in a randomized trial of telephone versus video interpretation for Spanish-speaking limited English proficiency families. Medical communication events were coded for duration, health professional type, interpreter (none, ad hoc, or professional), and content. With communication event as the unit of analysis, associations between professional interpreter use and assigned interpreter modality, health professional type, and communication content were assessed with multivariate random-effects logistic regression, clustered on the patient.
We analyzed 312 communication events from 50 ED visits (28 telephone arm, 22 video arm). Professional interpretation was used for 36% of communications overall, most often for detailed histories (89%) and least often for procedures (11%) and medication administrations (8%). Speaker type, communication content, and duration were all significantly associated with professional interpreter use. Assignment to video interpretation was associated with significantly increased use of professional interpretation for communication with providers (adjusted odds ratio 2.7; 95% confidence interval: 1.1–7.0).
Professional interpreter use was inconsistent over the course of an ED visit, even for patients enrolled in an interpretation study. Assignment to video rather than telephone interpretation led to greater use of professional interpretation among physicians and nurse practitioners but not nurses and other staff.